Creative approach to recruiting women to law enforcement happening at Minnesota State Fair

The Minnesota State Fair's horse barn may seem like an unusual place to recruit young ladies to become police officers, but it makes sense to Sgt. Keia Boyd.

"It’s fun," said the Minneapolis police sergeant. "Kids run up and want to see the horses and stuff so getting a chance to tell young ladies, you’re here to see the horses but did you know you can have a career as well."

Recruiting women to police departments isn’t a totally new idea, but several local agencies are committed to 30x30 — getting their numbers up to 30% female by 2030 — and most of them have a long way to go.

According to the 30x30 initiative, research suggests that female officers use less force and less excessive force; are perceived as more honest and compassionate; and make fewer discretionary arrests, especially of non-white residents.

But women are only a small percentage of law enforcement officers on the streets. Sgt. Boyd is one of 83 women at the Minneapolis Police Department, where 14% of the force is female.

St. Paul Deputy Police Chief Pamela Barragan is a leader in a department that’s 15% female. But in 27 years, she says there’s been a lot of progress.

"When I started, I had to wear men's uniforms, right?" said the deputy chief. "So in shirts, they were huge, so they always had to tailor them."

FOX 9 checked with several local agencies and found Hennepin County tops the list with 22% of its deputies being women.

Capt. Kristen Tomlinson credited the department’s history of putting women in leadership roles, so young women could see reflections of themselves all the way to the top where Dawanna Witt is sheriff.

Most local police agencies have recruitment efforts specifically targeting women, but those have existed for years without a lot of results. Deputy Chief Barragan says it’s a slow process to change societal expectations for gender roles — in the home and behind the badge.

"We need to embrace that women my size, my weight, we can do the job," she said.

St. Paul police are holding a seminar for women in law enforcement later this month as part of its strategy to get them involved.